“Hyde Park.” I gave a long exhale as we drove through the Chicago night, toward the south side, en route to Medici. “It had to be Hyde Park.”
My girlfriend gave me a sideways look. “I used to live here, you know,” she said, in a perfect echo of Luke Skywalker’s admonition to Han Solo as the two sped, captured, aboard Jabba the Hutt’s skiff en route to being executed in the Sarlacc Pit on Tatooine. I felt like replying, “You’re gonna die here, you know,” as Han had to Luke in “Return of the Jedi.” “Convenient.”
But, I didn’t. Because my girlfriend wasn’t near familiar enough with the movie to get the reference. Also, I didn’t want to, like, jinx the evening for us.
I don’t have good associations with Hyde Park, the old-school neighborhood nestled south of downtown Chicago. I know, from my obsessive reading about the history of Chicago, that it was once an enclave of the relatively affluent, or at least the area just north of it was. I know Jackson and Washington Parks were the primary setting for the World Columbian Exposition, the fabled White City, that city-defining event that still haunts Chicago, for better or worse, today. I know that it’s home to the University of Chicago, a legendary educational institution that employed the likes of protean American behavioral psychologist John B. Watson. True story: Watson did a conditioning experiment in which he made a toddler afraid of rabbits.
(Ahh, the good old days of psychological research. Before Institutional Review Boards ruined things for everyone.)
Driving to Hyde Park at 10 PM after one of those day-long ethics trainings that are designed to scare the hell out of every mental health professional who attends, I was not enthusiastic. The south side of the city depresses me. It’s not the south side’s reputation for toughness or racial diversity that bugs me, at least I don’t think it is. It’s just that Hyde Park has always struck me as, like, on another planet than the rest of Chicago.
Every time I’ve had occasion to go down there, I’ve felt as if perhaps I should strap on an emergency tank of oxygen, or perhaps leave a note for my loved ones informing them where to look for my remains if I should happen to not return.
I can’t exactly put my finger on why making the trek south of the loop is so portentous to me. All I can tell you is, Hyde Park is fucking haunted. Whether it’s the ghost of H.H. Homes, the ghost of the White City, the gothic gloam of University of Chicago architecture, or just my annoyance that going to Hyde Park means devoting what feels like half a day to travel alone, going to Hyde Park feels like…work.
So, I’ll admit it: I was lukewarm about Medici from the get go, due to its location alone.
I’ll be the first to admit that Medici has atmosphere, and it doesn’t feel forced. Everything’s made of wood. Which seems appropriate for old-school Chicago, a city in which, I once heard a historically literate tour guide quip, “Eventually everything burns.” The interior resembles kind of a hunting lodge, its brick walls and wooden tables scarred by decades of patrons carving and writing salutations on them. The lighting scheme is warm and flickery, doing a passable job of imitating flickering firelight. The overall effect works.
The Maestro went thin crust for his dead-animal-of-the-week, but I indulged my taste for deep dish pan pizza. I got a personal-size spinach, goat cheese, and pesto pizza, based on the waiter’s recommendation, and whaddya know: the crust was thick and chewy, the goat cheese was smooth and creamy, and the pesto did that thing pesto sauce does, being not exactly garlicky, not exactly tomato-ey, but rich and solid and aromatic. That is, the pesto and goat cheese turned out to be a succulent combination, resting upon that thick, doughy Chicago deep dish crust I unabashedly love.
Okay, so Hyde Park has decent pizza, I guess.
So, now you’ve read my brief take on Medici: hop on over and read the Maestro’s. He’s the star of the show this week, for reasons other than pizza. I’m still so sorry about your friend, man.
Also, feel free to contact guest blogger Jane Sawyer and ask her where precisely the hell my Tomatan is already.